Caroline Noyes loved being in college.
As a student at Randolph-Macon Woman’s College in Lynchburg, Va., she thrived on the opportunities to be involved; and as a psychology major, she became interested in the developmental and cognitive changes students undergo over the course of four years in college.
But it wasn’t until after she graduated and found herself working in a staff position at the Daily Pennsylvanian—the student newspaper for the University of Pennsylvania in her hometown of Philadelphia—that Noyes began to really consider a career in higher education.
After tapping the advice and experience of faculty and administrators at Penn, Noyes enrolled at the University of Georgia to pursue a master’s degree in student affairs and, finally, a doctorate in educational psychology.
Over the past 21 years, Noyes has leaned on that educational foundation as she’s built a career centered on helping students thrive in college. Now named associate provost at the University of New Orleans, Noyes said she’s looking forward to assisting the provost with programs and research that will draw and retain students while keeping faculty engaged and excited about the work they do. In this new role, her focus will be on assessment and institutional effectiveness.
“One of the things I think is so cool about this age is that when students come in, they are young adults but they still think so differently than adults,” Noyes said. “Part of the role of college is to provide a safe space where students can kind of thrash about.”
Noyes comes to UNO after more than 25 years in the Atlanta area, the last seven at the Georgia Institute of Technology, where she most recently led the Center for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning. Before that, she was assistant director in Georgia Tech’s Office of Assessment, a position she took after working 12 years at Oglethorpe University, rising from assistant professor of psychology to chair of the division of behavioral sciences.
Noyes said she feels the links between student success and classroom pedagogy can be as basic as homing in on why, for example, a student seeks to avoid a certain required class. If the answer has something to do with the instructional delivery, it’s up to the University to try to help resolve that problem.
“Teaching is both an art and a science,” she said.
Noyes said she’s not one to wholesale discount the value of the much-maligned lecture. In the right hands, a good lecture can be magical. But Noyes said she also recognizes that the tradition of throwing graduate students into teaching positions without giving them any understanding about how to teach can be problematic.
“I think one of the things students respond to more than anything else is genuineness … When you make a mistake, own it,” she said.
Data can be critical to understanding how to best serve students, she said. In the past, she’s studied student behavior with regard to degree completion rates: Is it taking a student longer than four years to graduate because they need better advising? Or is it because they’re, as she did, taking more classes they’re interested in?
“I worry they don’t do that as much,” she said, “and I get it. It’s more expensive now.”
Noyes said she was drawn to the UNO job because she felt her expertise might be especially useful at UNO, where President John Nicklow has made student recruitment and retention a priority.
After interviewing at UNO, she said, she surprised herself by how excited she became about the prospect of working here. Her decision to join the University was further validated when two separate friends of hers revealed with excitement that they were alumni.
“What I was struck by was how happy they were to know I got to come here,” Noyes said. “They both said, ‘You are so going to love it. You’re going to love the place and you’re going to love the town.' But they led with the place, the institution. And I think that says a lot.”
Since accepting the position, Noyes has taken no time getting settled into her new home.
She drove down to New Orleans from Atlanta last month with two buckets of fish and a cat named Alice. Within two days, she and wife Susan Bacher closed on a house in Broadmoor.
Now, she said, her attention is turned to the needs of the faculty members and students headed to the University in the fall. And her hope for what she can help accomplish at the Lakefront is not insignificant.
“At a place like UNO,” she said, “you can change lives.”